Westminster whispers

One speech to look out for, when their lordships debate the bill to pardon Alan Turing on Friday, will be that of Tory stalwart, Lady Trumpington.

Trumpers (as no one dares calls her to her face) was a codebreaker at the super-secret Bletchley Park operation during the war, where the early computers developed by Turing made a vital contribution to British intelligence (the Lords' other Bletchley park alumnus, the late Roy Jenkins, will doubtless be beaming down from the Celestial Senate).

Turing was sentenced to chemical castration for homosexual offences in the 1950s, for conduct which would not be illegal today, and committed suicide two years later. Now, the Lib Dem peer, Lord Sharkey, who was taught mathematics by Turing's sole PhD student, has put down a bill to pardon him - and the debate on Friday could be illuminated by some personal reminiscences from Lady Trumpington…unless, I hear, the famed equine aficionado is distracted by the gee-gees….

Friendly fire

Amidst the kicking administered to the high command of the Duchy of Cornwall by the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, no-one really remarked on the rare cracks in the normal solidarity of PAC members.

There were rare exchanges of friendly fire across party lines, as Labour PAC members queried whether the Duchy, which was set up to provide the Prince of Wales with an income, should be liable to corporation tax….

After the committee's chair Margaret Hodge and Labour's Austin Mitchell had taken a pop, the Conservative Stewart Jackson asked the main witness, the Prince's Principal Private Secretary William Nye, if he was enjoying his appearance before the People's Soviet of the PAC.

Behind the scenes, I gather, there was a titanic row about whether the whole thrust of the hearing was within the PAC's mandate, which is to consider the way public money is spent in pursuit of public policy. Conservative committee members argued vehemently that the Duchy's tax exemption could not be compared to the way big companies like Starbucks, or Google ordered their tax affairs to minimise their corporation tax burden; it didn't pay tax because there had been a conscious decision that it should not, so it was a matter of policy, not of implementation.

All of which probably means that when the PAC deliberates on what it heard on Monday and reports upon it, the result will be, quite unusually, a pretty bland lowest commons denominator effort. But I suspect the committee will be back on form when it weighs in on some big policy issues; the forthcoming hearings on the Universal Credit and, of course, HS2.

The £50bn question...

Talking of HS2, there's increasing alarm among "anti" Tory MPs that Labour will beat them to the punch and come out against the scheme, even before what seems certain to be a scathing report from the PAC. Because if they did they'd then have a £50 billion plus answer to the standard Any Questions counter-argument to any spending pledge by shadow ministers.

Imagine the scene:

BELEAGUERED MINISTER: "That's all very well, but how do you pay for it?"

LABOUR MP: "Well, we'll cancel HS2..."

AUDIENCE: [Wild applause] (or so the HS2-sceptics assume).

To be sure, there are plenty of Labour MPs, plus the former transport secretary Lord Adonis, who remain big fans of HS2, but other colleagues can see a considerable political pay-off. Watch this space.

UPDATE: Labour's Transport team are tweeting to say that they're not changing their policy - they should know, but what the above blog says is that Tory HS2-sceptics are worried they might, and are using the argument internally that a change of line by Labour could leave them seriously outflanked.


The unexpectedly serious battle to be co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on People Trafficking reaches its apocalyptic finale on Wednesday evening on the committee corridor. Incumbent Peter Bone is facing a serious challenge from the former Home Office minister Fiona MacTaggart - with the interesting twist that the ballot is being held on the committee corridor, just as the PM addresses the Conservatives backbench 1922 Committee.

So, will David Cameron take the opportunity to show a bit of generosity towards one of his less simpatico troops, and lead his ministers a couple of doors up the corridor, to cast their votes for Mr Bone, or will pressing state business, or even the wish not to set a precedent of involving himself in such matters keep him away?

And whatever he does, Mr Bone is putting together a team of helpers to usher as many Tories as possible from the '22 meeting to the APPG ballot....

Watch out for tweets of triumph and despair sometime after 6pm, on Wednesday night.

Around the BBC